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•e-Florin Cdlian 

Scholasticism with its infinitely subtle argumentation, 
Theology with its ambiguous phraseology, Astrology, 
so vast and so complicated, are only child's play in 
comparison with Alchemy. 

Spiritual Alchemy versus Chemistry 

One branch of the historiography of alchemy interprets it as the ancestor of 
what is today called chemistry. The scholars that contribute to this conception 
usually come from scholarly fields that require training in chemistry, the history 
of science and technology or connected disciplines. The history of alchemy 
is studied as part of the history of science, as pre -chemistry or proto-science, 
accentuating the laboratory work aspect. Another approach, an almost antithetic 
posture, comprises a wide range of nuances in interpreting alchemy under a 
relatively common comprehension that I would label "spiritual alchemy." From 
this perspective it is considered that alchemy can be seen as part of religious 
behavior (Mircea Eliade^, as a projection of psychological content of the level 
of matter (Carl Gustav Jung's atypical interpretation of alchemy in psychological 

^ Albert Poisson quoted by John Read, Vrom Alchemy to Chemistry (Ne"w York: Courier 
Dover Publications, 1995), 73. 

^ I use the expression "spiritual alchemy" and not occult, philosophical or speculative 
alchemy because it is an established phrase that expresses speculative, esoteric, and non- 
laboratory practices. In tiiis study "spiritual" is often a synonym for esoteric, hence 
it points to special kno"wledge of the ultimate principles that govern the physical and 
metaphysical realities. The kno"wledge of these realities is "spiritual" and implies more 
than laboratory research. Concerning the use of the phrase "spiritual alchemy," see, for 
example: Mark S. Morrisson, Modern Alchemy: Occultism and the Emergence of the Atomic 
Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 135—183; Daniel Merkur, "The Study 
of Spiritual Alchemy: Mysticism, Gold-Making, and Esoteric Hermeneutics," Ambix 37 
(1 990) : 35—45; Here"ward Tilton, The Quest for the Phoenix: Spiritual Alchemy and Kosicrucianism 
in the Work of Count Michael Maier (1569-1622) (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2003). 
' Mircea Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978). 


Alkimia Operativa and Alkimia Speculativa 

terms'), as part of Western esotericism (Antome Faivre^, or even as a hermetic 
tradition (Julius Evola, Titus Burckhardt ), or as a hermeneutic practice (Umberto 
Eco ). The immediate observation after such an enumeration might be that the 
history of alchemy lacks a methodology of its own and that the scholars who 
study it import the tools of their training. Emerging from the enumeration above, 
the complexity of alchemy has led to different definitions of it, making it relatively 
difficult to avoid the risk of a one-sided understanding. 

For the present inquiry I will review the research of Jung and Eliade, 
representing of the spiritual alchemy position, and the critique of their theses by 
historians of science. William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principe are the most 
recent influential scholars to reject the spiritual face of alchemy in the history of 
science. In this article I discuss the standpoint which argues that alchemy is the 
pre -history of chemistry and m addition some problematic approaches to the 
thesis that the essence of alchemy is its spiritual character. 

Spiritual Alchemy 

For Carl Gustav Jung, alchemy is not only part of the pre-history of chemistry, 
that IS, not only laboratory work, but also an essential part of the history of 
psychology as the history of the discovery of the deep structure of the psyche 

■* His research on alchemy can be found in The Collected Works of Carl Gustav Jung, 20 vols, 
(London: Routledge, 1981, first edition 1953) [Jung, C]V\, vol. 12: Psychology and Alchemy, 
vol. 13: Alchemical Studies, vol. 14: Mjsterium Conjunctionis. 

The relation of alchemy to Western esotericism is analyzed by Antoine Faivre in several 
"works. See especially his Toison d'or et alchimie (Milan: Arclie, 1990) and The Eternal Hermes: 
From Greek God to Alchemical Magus (Grand Rapids, MI: Phanes Press, 1996). 
"^ Julius Evola, The Hermetic Tradition (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 

^ Titus Burckhardt, Alchemy, Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul (London: Stuart and 
Watkms, 1967). 

^ Umberto Eco, The Umits of Interpretation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 
18—20. Eco does not refer explicitly to alchemy, but the principles of the hermetic tradition 
are seen as principles of hermeneutics. Also, Hereward TUton understands the position 
of Eco as "the history of alchemy as the history of the interpretation of alchemy," see 
Tilton, The Quest for the Phoenix, 18. 

' There is also the obscure pseudo-research part of the Western esoteric industry, 
extended through theosophists, spiritualists, and Ne"w Age enthusiasts, an issue beyond 
the scope of this article. 

^'^ This study is based especially on the first chapter of my MA thesis, "Spiritual Alchemy 
and the Function of Image: Coincidentia Oppositorum in Michael Maier's Atalanta , 
(Central European University, 2009). 


George-Florin Calian 

and its unconscious. Jung emphasized the significance of the symbolic structure 
of alchemical texts, a structure that is understood as a way independent of 
laboratory research, as a stuuctum per se. His works are peculiar pieces perceived 
from the perspective of the historiography of alchemy, since Jung interprets the 
symbolism of alchemy as a projection of internal developmental psychological 
stages. Using such hypotheses as a departure point, Jung analyzed the dreams of 
his patients through the symbolism of alchemy. 

The science of alchemy thus reflects psychological content that is projected 
at the level of matter. In this interpretation, the opus alcJymicum is a "reality" of the 
psyche, not of the physical world, as some alchemists believed. Jung operated with 
a distinction between laboratory and non-laboratory work. The last expression 
refers to secret knowledge, in a word, what is esoteric. The occult processes, 
according to Jung, were m fact part of the psychological transformation of the 
alchemist, and the laboratory work was the externalization of an internal state of 
the psyche. 

These ideas m the historiography of alchemy offered an alternative for 
understanding the alchemical literature and the symbols it involves. In alchemical 
symbols, which have a mythological and religious character, one may find a 
vsAttot par excellence for psychic realities and access to the collective and personal 

The personal unconscious, as definedbyjung, is a reservoir of disowned 
contents and processes which can be experienced as separable parts in 
normal space and time, and which have location. In the process of 
projection, the parts of the personal unconscious are experienced as 
existing 'in' the person, or they are projected 'out of the person and 
'into' another person. 

Jung's account emphasizes that there is a powerful connection between the 
end of alchemy and the rise of chemistry, and the borderline between these two 
disciplines separates the speculative and psychological features of alchemy from 
the positivist and scientific character of chemistry. The decline of speculative 
imagery in alchemy is closely linked with the development of the new science of 
chemistry. He considered that if the principles of alchemy were proved to be "an 
error" by chemistry, the spiritual aspect remained part of the psyche that "did not 




^' Nathan Scli"wartz-Salant, The Mystery of Human Relationship: Alchemy and the Transformation 
of the Sef (London: Routledge, 1998), 4. 
'^ Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, 37. 


Alkimia Operativa and Alkimia Speculativa 

One should observe that Jung's departure point in studying alchemy had a 
pragmatic feature; he did not merely hypothesize about it, but turned to alchemy 
after he studied the dreams of his patients. His activity as doctor is well-known 
and was important for psychological research on the unconscious, implicitly on 
its alchemical content. The theory of projection is central to his understanding of 
alchemy. To know the content of the unconscious one should study a projection, 
and, for Jung, alchemical texts were projections of psychological content. 
Therefore, his research has a positivistic character; he analyzed dreams with the 
help of alchemical texts in which he thought that one could see possible meanings 
of the dreams. He spent half of his life attempting to elucidate the content of 
alchemical texts. His work is recognized for extensive research on the body of 
alchemical texts; Jung also made important manuscript discoveries that are of 
great use for other branches of study in the historiography of alchemy. 

On the other hand, according to Eliade, alchemy is part of religious behavior 
and reflects "the behavior of primitive societies in their relation to Matter," and 
it is a way "to pierce through to the mental world which lies behind them." 
In The Forge and the Crucible: The Origins and Structures of Alchemy, Eliade offers a 
theoretical background for understanding alchemy from the perspective of the 
history of religion. Alchemy is a spiritual technique and can be understood not as 
an important moment in the history of science but rather as a kind of religious 
phenomenon with its own particular rules: "alchemical experience and magico- 
religious experience share common or analogous elements." Eliade points out 
that the essential transmutation of matter was the obsession of the alchemist: "to 
collaborate in the work of Nature, to help her to produce at an ever-increasing 
tempo, to change the modalities of matter — here . . . lies one of the key sources 
of alchemical ideology." 

Eliade does not insist wholly on the European climax of alchemical literature, 
as Jung does, but on different societies that developed alchemical thinking that 
is fijndamentally different from chemical thinking m several ways: the search for 

^^ For example, the text attributed to Thomas Aquinas, Aurora Consurgens, "was partially 
discovered by Jung in the monastery on Reichenau Island, Lake Constance. His collaborator 
later found complete manuscripts of the text in Paris, Bologna, and Venice; see Marie- 
Luise von Franz, Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology (Toronto: Inner 
City Books, 1980), 177—178, and Eadem, Aurora consurgens.' A Document Attributed to 
Thomas Aquinas (Ne"w York: Pantheon Books, 1966). 
^^ Eliade, The Forge, 7. 
15 Ibidem, 8. 
1"^ Ibidem, 165. 
" Ibidem. 


George-Florin Calian 

the philosopher's stone, a hyper-religious behavior; the "transmutation" of the 
individual, and so forth. For Eliade, "the alchemist is the brotherly savior of 
Nature" and the ^^opus alchymicum had profound analogies with mystic life " In 
this regard, Eliade gave the example of a disciple of Paracelsus, who considered 
that the alchemist tasted the "first fruits of Resurrection m this life and had a 
foretaste of the Celestial Country" In support of this view, Eliade speaks about 
marriage, death, and the life of metals as an essential part of alchemical practices. 

Eliade's approach, seen as part of the development of the methodologies of 
religious studies, does not raise serious problems concerning the study of alchemy 
compared to Jung's research, where several critical questions have been raised, for 
example, how well can alchemical practice and dream activity be compared. My 
purpose here is not to discuss the suitability of such methods of the history of 
religions and psychology, but to argue that considering alchemy as only proto- 
science sets too narrow limitations. 

Alchemy as Experimental Activity 

Historians of science, for whom the core of alchemy resides particularly m 
laboratory work, have pointed out Jung's and Eliade's apparent "ignorance" of 
laboratory research. The critique of the spiritual and religious interpretation of 
alchemy formulated by William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principe is an 
ordinary rejection coming from the field of the history of science. At the moment 
their thesis is relatively wide-spread among the historians of chemistry and also of 
alchemy. It may be described as an attempt to introduce a kind of exclusivist position 
(it can be called eliminitamsm) into the field of scholarly research on alchemy, the 
assumption being that alchemy does not have a strong enough spiritual component 
to place it within the scope of the history of religion or similar fields of research. 
Through its laboratory practice, however, alchemy does have a proper place in the 
history of science. This position was strongly formulated in 1998 in a provocative 
article, "Alchemy vs. Chemistry: The Etymological Origins of a Historiographic 
Mistake," and reinforced in 2001 with a second more substantial paper entitled 

1** Ibidem, 52 
"Ibidem, 165. 
20 Ibidem, 166. 

2^ William R. Ne"wman and La"wrence M. Principe, "Alchemy vs. Chemistry: The 
Etymological Origins of a Historiographic Mistake," Early Science and Medicine 3 (1998): 


Alkimia Operativa and Alkimia Speculativa 

"Some Problems with the Historiography of Alchemy," which developed largely 
around the question about the reasons why the spiritual interpretation is not in 
agreement with historical reality. In the latest edition of The Cambridge History of 
Science, Newman fortifies their position revisiting the same ideas. 

In Alchemy vs. Chemistry, Principe and Newman assert that there was no 
conceptual difference between alchemy and chemistry (alchemia and chemia) m 
the seventeenth century, that the usage of both terms creates "confusion among 
historians of science," and that it would be better to use the term chemia (chemistry) 
for the Early Modern period. The different terms do not refer to different 
disciplines and were used interchangeably. Since the two terms are not separated, 
they propose using the word chemistry in its archaic spelling (chymistry). 

Besides this terminological issue, the most striking claim is that there is 
almost no connection between early modern alchemy and the Western esoteric 
tradition. The apparent esoteric language can be decoded as referring to chemical 
research. Principe and Newman judge that the reception of alchemy as a discipline 
separate from chemistry devolves from inadequate constructions of its historical 
context that "consequently have little resemblance to the topic as known and 
practiced m the early modern period." Their purpose is to "deny the validity 
of interpretations that artificially, unwarrantably, and most of all, ahistorically 
introduce a chasm between 'alchemy' and 'chemistry'," discarding thus the idea 
that alchemy in the seventeenth century had broken off from chemistry; they 

'^ William R. Newman and La"wrence M. Principe, "Some Problems "with the Historiography 

of Alchemy," in Secrets of "Nature: Astrology and Alchemj in Early Modern Europe, ed. William 

R. Ne"wman and Anthony Grafton (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

[MIT] Press, 2001), 345-431. 

^' Even though the topics of the articles are quite different, Principe and Newman 

deal with them together as a whole as references concerning their rejection of spiritual 


^"^ William R. Newman, "From Alchemy to 'Chemistry,'" in The Cambridge History of 

Science, vol. 3: Earlj Modern Science, ed. Katlierine Park and Lorraine Daston (Ne"w York: 

Cambridge University Press, 2006), 497—517. 

See also Lawrence M. Principe, "A Revolution Nobody Noticed? Changes in Early 
Eighteenth-Century Chymistry," in New Narratives in Eighteenth-Century Chemistry, ed. 
La"wrence M. Principe (Dordrecht: Springer, 2007), 1—22. 

'^^ William R. Newman, Lawrence M. Principe, Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and 
the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002), xiii. 
^' Newman and Principe, "Some Problems with the Historiography of Alchemy," 417. 
^* In an earlier publication Principe also put forward the experimental character of alchemy, 
saying that "some phenomena described in alchemical texts — even those dealing with 
the arcana maiora — can be successfully reproduced in the modern chemical laboratory," 


George-Florin Calian 

consider alchemy as a phenomenon mainly bound to experimental activity. In the 
scholarship on alchemy this thesis has been received almost without significant 
reservations, as, for example: "It is therefore a healthy response for historians 
such as William R. Newman to remind us that alchemists were chiefly concerned 
with physical processes and material goals." 

An Ahistorical Approach 

From a historiographical point of view and from a scholarly perspective, the 
most problematic issue in the jungian approach is that he does not have a clearly 
defined historical approach. He puts together medieval and Renaissance alchemical 
ideas in an almost infra-historical understanding. His differentiation between 
medieval and Renaissance alchemy is seen as pointing to the difference between 
unconscious and conscious mystical implications of processes for an alchemist. 
He is not interested in the "history of alchemy" as part of historiography; for Jung, 
alchemy is a science that can stand in a way beyond its historical manifestation and 
its contextualization does not clarify too much concerning aspects of the cryptic 
symbols as androgyny or the animus— anima relation. This poses serious problems 
for historical approaches, because Jung "found no difficult)^ in linking together 
ideas from different times and cultures, and m viewing these ideas as arising, 
not from any specific historical conditions, but rather from underlying universal 
dispositions within the psyche itself" 

These issues were noted by Principe and Newman m their rejection of a 
psychological Jungian interpretation. Their approach — focused especially on early 
modern alchemy — follows, among others, the critique of art historian Barbara 
Obrist, who, referring to medieval alchemy, claims that Jung's perspective is "a 
perspective which... had acquired the status of a self-evident truth and was no 
longer questioned by historians of alchemy." Obrist considers that the Jungian 
conception "does not take into account the specific political, social and intellectual 

La"wrence M. Principe, The Aspiring Adept: Robert Bqyie and His Alchemical Quest (Princeton: 

Princeton University Press, 1998), 161. 

^' Leah DeVun, Prophety, Alchemy, and the End of Time: John of Rupescissa in the Tate Middle 

Ages (Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2009), 105. Emphasis mine. 

^^ John James Clarke, In Search of ]ung: Historical and Philosophical Enquiries (London: 

Routledge, 1992), 51. 

'^ Barbara Obrist, Ees debuts de I'imagerie alchimique (14e—15e siecles) (Paris: Le Sycomore, 

1982), 14-36. 

'^ Tilton, The Quest for the Phoenix: 8 


Alkimia Operativa and Alkimia Speculativa 

contexts of the periods and societies in which alchemy has fianctioned."^ For her, 
as for almost all historians, "alchemy is not a trans-historical myth, but a construct 
which is culturally produced." In this context, Principe and Newman build their 
argument not only on Obrist's critique of the jungian approach, but also on the 
writings of Robert Halleux, an important historian of medieval alchemy who had 
similar ideas about Jung's interpretation. It should be noted that this critique 
does not fijUy undermine jungian research, taking into account that his purpose 
was almost totally different from that of a historian. 

Victorian Occultism and Spiritual Alchemy 

For Principe and Newman, the research done by Jung and Eliade should not be 
considered as part of scholarly research, as they "were directly influenced by late 
nineteenth-century occultism." Consequently "in spite of their origins outside of 
properly historical studies," the theses of spiritual alchemy "have all permeated 
the historiography of alchemy to such an extent that many historians have adopted 
them without being aware of either their origins or their unsuitability." ° Therefore, 
the understanding of alchemy as basically spiritual, distinct from "chemistry," is 
"an ahistorical formulation which postdates the early modern period and was 
fully developed only m the context of nineteenth-century occultism." 

After a review of the history of the spiritual interpretation of alchemy by 
authors such as Mary Anne Atwood (1817—1910), Ethan Allen Hitchcock (1798— 
1870), and Arthur Edward Waite (1857—1942) as representatives of the esoteric 
school which impacted equally on "the general and the learned perceptions of 
historical alchemy," Principe and Newman consider that writers such as Julius 
Evola (1898-1974) and Titus Burckhardt (1908-1984) "extended the movement 
through the twentieth century." " In this context, "the prevalence of the esoteric 
interpretation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries seems to have 
had even greater indirect effects" on modern research on alchemy. Thus "the 

^^ Ibidem. 

^^ Urszula Szulakowska, The Alchemy of Ught. Geometry and Optics in l^ate Renaissance 

Alchemical Illustration (Leiden: Brill 2000), 10. 

Newman and Principe, "Some Problems with the Historiography of Alchemy," 406. 
3'^ Ibidem, 417. 
■'^ Ibidem. 
^^ Ibidem. 
3' Ibidem, 400. 
^ Ibidem, 396. 
^^ Ibidem, 400. 


George-Florin Calian 

currency of the notion of an internal alchemy whose goal was the transformation 
of the soul cannot have failed to influence the construction formulated by Carl 
Gustav Jung, with which it shares an emphasis on psychic states and spiritual self- 

An element that Principe and Newman use to reinforce their arguments 
against Eliade, and m consequence against the spiritual alchemy hypothesis, is, 
as in the rejection of Jung, marked with biographical elements. They sustain the 
peculiar idea that "in his student years, he was a devotee of Rudolph Steiner's 
'Anthroposophy'," and for this reason, Eliade was closer to a spiritual (theosophist?) 
understanding of alchemy. While in the case of Jung the biographical element 
might have some kind of relevance (indeed, Jung had been involved in some 
spiritualist sessions in his youth), in the case of Eliade it seems that the biographical 
element is only a bibliographical issue, mandatory for someone dealing with the 
history of religion. 

The Limitations of the Proto-science Thesis 

Researching alchemy through the eyes of only analytical psychology or the history 
of religion has its limits. The attempt to fully explain that the perception of 
alchemy as a spiritual discipline was "developed only in the context of nineteenth- 
century occultism" because the alchemist himself was not aware of the spiritual 
character of his research, however, gives rise to many methodological problems. 
What makes the ideas of Principe and Newman not fiiUy justified? First, 
their attitude seems to be dramatically inflexible in the rejection of spiritual 
alchemy, which is difficult to sustain m the case of many alchemical texts as, 
for example, Aurora Consurgens, the Ripley Scroll or authors such as Michael Maier 

*^ Ibidem. 

'^^ Newman, Principe, "Some Problems in the Historiography of Alchemy," 404. They also 
revisit the idea in Newman, Principe, Alchemy Tried in the Fire, 36, where they affirm that: 
"Eliade [\vas] immersed in the anthroposophy of Rudolph Steiner." Here is not the place 
to critique the easy manner of making this kind of assumption "without bibliographical 
references, but I add only that, indeed, Eliade read several books by Steiner, AHrcea Eliade, 
Autobiography: 1 907— 1 9 37. Journey East— Journey West {ChioLgo: University of Chicago Press, 
1990), 86, and "during his university years... acquired an interest in Anthroposophy... 
for its combination of the spiritual and the logical in its approach to religious material," 
David Cuve, Mircea Eliade's Vision for a New Humanism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 
1993), 7, but still he "was by no means ever "devoted to" or "immersed in" it. Also, 
close readings of his Autobiography and Journal cXeoAj sho"w his reserved attitude towards 


Alkimia Operativa and Alkimia Speculativa 

or Jakob Bohme, to name only some works and authors that cannot fit mto 
the thesis of those two historians of science. Their manner of presentation is 
fallacious; they assert that Jung was a kind of "victim" of the occultism of the 
nineteenth century. There are extensive studies on Jung, out of which they chose 
to use a bizarre book as their authorit)^, that of Richard Noll, Thejung Cult, which 
rather comes from tabloid literature than from the academic world. Much of 
their thesis concerning the Jungian conception of alchemy is based on "Richard 
Noll's fundamental study," and also on an additional volume by Noll, offensively 
entitled The Aryan Christ, on the cult that developed around Jung. 

Principe and Newman assert that the conceptions of Jung and Eliade are 
disseminated through a "common perception" of alchemy. I would argue the 
contrary, namely, that it is difficult to understand how a jungian image-archet)^pe 
works and what a psychological interpretation of alchemical stages presupposes 
with the tools of "common perception." Also, it is improbable that Eliade's 
suggestion that the alchemist tried to recreate at the level of matter the primordial 
conditions when God created the world is so widespread m the common 
perception of alchemy. The "common perception" is of "medieval zealots 
rummaging through ancient books and scrolls m dark hot basements, seeking 
the secrets of transmutation in the dim firelight of brick furnaces and archaic 
laboratory equipment." The alchemist in ordinary perception is a man of the 
laboratory and only a few are familiar with the writings of Eliade or Jung. Only 
through esotericism or the traditionalist theses of Evola or Burchardt has the 
spiritual and hermetic interpretation of alchemy been spread. What is important, 
and Principe and Newman did not note when claiming that Eliade and Jung are 
victims of the occult interpretation, is that Evola and Burckhardt rejected the 
Jungian thesis. ° The Jungian concept is not acceptable for the esoteric school 
because of his psychological reading of alchemy, which somehow left alchemy 
without Its metaphysical components and placed it m the psyche, as a product of 

■*** Richard Noll, The Jung Cult (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994). 

^^ Ne"wman and Principe, "Some Problems with the Historiography of Alchemy," 404. 

^ Richard Noll, The Aryan Christ (New York: Random House, 1997), 25-30, 37-41. Both 

of Noll's books support the idea that Jung believed to be himself an "Aryan Jesus" and 

that he could be compared "with pseudo -spiritual leaders such as David Koresh or Jim 

Jones. These types of comparisons are irrelevant for scholarly research and instead give 

the discussion an overall vulgar and proselytizing tone. 

■*' Morrisson, Modern Akhemy, 3. 

'** Evola considered that Jung "was too modem and scientific in his psychological approach, 

see Evola, The Hermetic Tradition, 97; Burckhardt, also an adept of tradition, rejected tiie 

psychological interpretation of alchemy, see Burckhardt, Alchemy, 8. 


George-Florin Calian 

It. Therefore, it is not esoteric knowledge that has its root in a transcendent reality. 
For religious and esoteric temperaments Jung is too positivist in approaching 
religion, and for the scientist he is too spiritual in approaching the history of 
science. However, Jung seems to have been caught up m the pseudo-spiritual 
movements tji^pical of New Age adepts who are militant for syncretism, the theory 
of synchronicity (also elaborated by Jung), and ultra-spiritual attitudes. Jung's 
perspective as part of New Age spirituality, with its integration of alchemical 
symbolism, is nevertheless a misunderstanding and crude simplification of his 
thesis. Research on Jung is currently in decline, to the extent that some aspects 
of his theory of archetypes have been ridiculed and considered inappropriate for 
research on the nature of the psyche. As I argue m this paper, Jung's contribution 
to understanding the emergence of science m the early modern period has 
been increasingly overshadowed. The unfortunate consequence of this leads 
to disregarding a massive intellectual effort to make sense of the dynamics of 
symbols in alchemy. 

Hereward Tilton, a scholar whose research is mainly focused on Michael 
Maier and early modern alchemy, scrutinizing the thesis of Principe and Newman, 
considers that there are "a number of methodological and factual errors in their 
analyses." Tilton underscores that they are not so accurate m the review of 
Jungian reception, underlining that Robert Halleux, one of the authors on the 
basis of which Principe and Newman rejected Jung, eulogized "Jung's scrupulous 
adherence to the fruits of erudition concerning the dating and authorship of 
texts" and "contrary to Principe and Newman, Halleux's opinions on the matter 
of medieval alchemy are diametrically opposed to those of Obrist." Tilton 
considers that "the misappropriation of Halleux by Principe and Newman could 
be explained as a simple matter of error in translation." Tilton rightfully adds 
that in reading Principe and Newman, "newcomers to the subject are liable to 
gain a false impression concerning the acceptability of certain conceptions m the 
academic milieu. "^^ Therefore, 

"*' Tilton, The Quest for the Phoenix, 10 
50 Ibidem. 


Ibidem. Tilton emphasizes that, commenting on the texts of pseudo-Arnoldus de 
ViUanova, Halleux talked about a "close connection of religion "with alchemy in the 
medieval period," while Obrist (in _Le Debuts, 21) says that "nothing allo"ws us to speculate 
on the religiosity of an author when he uses a consciously rhetorical process." 
'^ Tilton, The Quest for the Phoenix, 1 1 . 
^'^ Ibidem. 


Alkimia Operativa and Alkimia Speculativa 

if we follow Principe and Newman in counterposing a positively 
valued 'correct chemical analysis' carried out by 'serious historians of 
alchemy' with a negatively valued 'analysis of unreason', we not only 
run the risk of committing a violence against the texts at hand, but we 
also perform a disservice to contemporary scholarship on the subject 
of alchemy. 

To subsume alchemy in chemistry seems to be the greatest difficulty in 
accepting Principe— Newman's position. In this regard, Tilton argues against their 
misconception, that alchemy is "a subject study m the field of the history of 
Western esotericism," and, as a corollary, "the term 'alchemy' becomes entirely 
indispensable." If Jung's distinction between "spiritual" alchemy and "physical" 
chemistry, also used by modern writers on the history of Western esotericism, 
IS fallacious, as Principe and Newman are trying to argue, than all contemporary 
studies on Western esotericism should review the subject of their studies, and, 
also, alchemy should not be withm the purview of religious studies. 

Alkimia Speculativa 

Despite the campaign of Principe and Newman, the distinction is still used at the 
moment m scholarly research: "it is now clear that alchemy was a scientifically and 
spiritually serious pursuit." Or, in a different tone, alchemy 

in the sixteenth century promised much more than producing gold 
from base metals. The successful alchemist gained control of life's 
forces and uncovered secret wisdom — the essence of all truths and 

I suggest that a more moderate thesis, such as that of Bruce T Moran, a 
historian of chemistry who argues that alchemists and early chemists switched 
thoughts and methods until alchemy gradually lost its spiritual or religious aspect 
and became chemistry at the time of the so-called scientific revolution, ° is more 
practical and proper for studying this ambiguous discipline that is alchemy. 
The statement is close to Eliade's suggestion that chemistry "was born from 

^"^ Ibidem. 
=^5 Ibidem, 2. 

Morrisson, Modern Alchemy, 3. 
^' Sally Metzler, "Artists, Alchemists and Mannerists in Courtiy Prague," m. Art and Alchemy, 
ed. Jacob Wamberg (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2006), 131. 

Bruce T. ^\oT'xa,DistillingKnowledge: Alchemy, Chemistry, and the ScientificKevolution (London: 
Harvard University Press, 2005). 


George-Florin Calian 

the disintegration of the ideology of alchemy,"^ or Charles Webster's similar 
thought, that there is "an almost perfect correlation between the rise of science 
and the decline of magic." ' 

Nevertheless, the roots of the spiritual/laboratory distinction can be found 
in medieval alchemy and not only m nineteenth century occultism, as Principe and 
Newman suggested. Roger Bacon, m chapter XII of Opus tertium (1267), seems 
to be one of the earliest alchemical authors who made the distinction between 
alkimia operativa et practka and alkimia spemlativa. The first was dedicated to a 
mundane purpose, the making of gold, for example, while the latter was the true 
sdentia, metaphysical knowledge. An early description by Petrus Bonus of Ferrara 
in Pretiosa tnargarita novella (1330) stands as another testimony for the fact that it 
was not only a chemical discipline; it supports the idea that alchemy had a double 
character — it was a science (the mundane facet), but also a donum Dei (a supernatural 
facet). In this context Petrus connected lapis with Christ, which means a lapis 
divinus. In the Renaissance, the distinction became sharper than in the Middle 
Ages, and one sees an abundance of speculative alchemical literature, up to the 
point that It lost any kind of contact with laboratory realities. 

The conception of alchemy as a discipline that only precedes chemistry 
and IS "quite alien to the image of alchemists as primarily seekers of a unio 
mysticd' is almost scandalous, considering the fact that there are many authors 
who called themselves alchemists, such as Vilanova, Ripley, Fludd, Maier, and 
others, who had an obsession with unio tnystica. For this reason it is hard to accept 
that spiritual alchemy has "very little reference to the historical reality of the 
subject," and to try to reduce the whole massive speculative alchemical corpus 
to only chemical research would create serious methodological problems, leaving 

EHade, The Vorge and the Crucible, 9. 
*" Charles Webster, Vrom Paracelsus to Neivton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science 
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 1. 

^^ Roger Bacon, "Opus tertium," in Roger Bacon, Opera qucedam hactenus inedita. I Opus 
tertium, II. Opus minus, III Compendium philosophize (London: Longman, Green, Longman 
and Roberts, 1859), 39-40. 

'^^ Alkimia speculativa, quae speculatur de omnibus inanimatis et tota generatione rerum ab elementis... 
alkimia operativa etpractica, quae docetfacere metalla nobilia, et colores, et alia multa melius et copiosius 
per artificium, quam per naturam fiant Roger Bacon also speaks of a medicina of metals that 
is also a medicina of the body, an elixir of Hfe. Medicina thus became the ultimate "way of 
making perfectible things. 

'^^ Leah DeVun, Prophecy, Alchemy and the End of Time, 109. 
*■* Ne"wman, Principe, Alchemy Pried in the Fire, 38. 
«5 Ibidem, 37. 


Alkimia Operativa and Alkimia Speculativa 

essential compounds of alchemy unresolved and developmg a research trend 
based on false premises. 

Conversely, Prmcipe and Newman, in a book published in 2002, Alchemy 

Tried in the Fire, revised their opinion to a certain extent; they claim that they 

do not "deny that alchemy is replete with a singular lushness of symbolism and 

overlapping levels of meaning or that it presents important resonances with 

religious speculations." But, this does not mean that "alchemy is nothing but 

the manipulation of such symbolism or texts without reference to laboratory 

activities." This supposition is somehow appropriate, but with serious 

exceptions, especially in cases where alchemy is connected with cabala, with 

moral life, spiritual life, '"' divine inspiration, the similitude theory of sympathy 

and correspondences between what is down and what is above or, in Michael 

Maier's case, with musical fugues. This religious and esoteric spider-web is 

because Renaissance alchemy believed that the changes in the external 

world moved in parallel with those in the soul, as throughout the 

occult sciences — cosmology, psychology, astrology, numerology — a 

continuous two-level model is used. 

During the Renaissance many alchemists were also physicians, and they were 
under the influence of Paracelsian medicine, a medical-alchemical conception 
that was closer to a sacred than a secular understanding of the body. The mystical 
conception of the body linked alchemy strongly with Christianity. Szulakowska 
has shown that Christian eschatology was an intimate part of alchemy m the 
late sixteenth and early seventeenth century and Tilton has concluded that 

'^'^ Ibidem, 
''^ Ibidem, 


Many relations of alchemical imagery with cabala, theological discourse, and Clirist- 
Anthropos are thoroughly analyzed in Urszula Szulako"wska, The SacrifioialBody and the Day 
of Doom: Alchemy and Apocalyptic Discourse in the Protestant Keformation (Leiden: Brill, 2006). 
''^ "After all, the alchemical operation "was to be valid also for them; it "was a religious 
function requiring of the alchemist a pure, often ascetic Hfe," Thomas Steven Molnar, God 
and the Knoivledge of Reality (New Bruns"wick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1993), 86. 
""^ For example, the acrostic of BasHe Valentin present in many alchemical emblems and 
cited in many alchemical treatises: VI.TR.I.O.L. (Visita Interiora Terrae Kectificando Invenies 
Occultum Tapidem. "Visit the interior of the earth and by rectifying find the hidden stone"), 
beside its possible connection "with the matter, has an important spiritual meaning, a 
descensus ad inferos, "which may be linked with "saturnine melancholy" and the symbolism 
from Durer's Melancolia, see more in EHade, The Forge, 162. 

^^ Brian Vickers, Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 1984), 129. 
^^ Szulako"wska, The Sacrificial Body, passim. 


George-Florin Calian 

"there exists an ideological congruence in the history of esotericism pertaining 

to matters of alchemy." Thus, the emphasis on the laboratory side of alchemy 

cannot completely uncover the complicated state of Renaissance alchemy and 

the obvious influence of Neoplatonism, cabala or any other type of spiritual 

science. Accordingly, the questions that are reached by Western esotericism 

cannot be fully answered on basis of the objective or positivistic 

techniques of traditional approaches to the history of science. We 

also need help from religious studies and historical anthropology. 

The concept of self-fashioning also seems useful, leading us, to some 

extent, to the territory of psychology as well. 

Therefore, is alchemy part of the history of science or part of Western 
esotericism? Or of both? In order to suggest a reply and to express my serious 
reservations on the Principe— Newman thesis, I will briefly review further, as 
case studies, the alchemical ideas of two complementary figures of alchemical 
literature: Michael Maier (1552/1576—1612), an alchemist who over-spiritualized 
his discipline, and Jakob Bohme (1575—1624), a mystic who alchemized his 

Almost the entire opus of Maier falls under the rubric of the spiritual 
understanding of alchemy. First of all, Maier, "the most prominent alchemical 
physician m Germany since Paracelsus," followed a tendency developed by 
Melchior Cibmensis, to make alchemy a religion. In Processus subforma missae (1525), 
published in 1602 in Theatmm Chemicum III, Melchior took the transubstantiation 
of the bread and wine in Christianity as a replica for alchemical transmutation. 
In Symhola aureae mensae duodedm nationum (1617), Maier published: "a defense 
and legitimization of the alchemical tradition with the practitioners of twelve 
nations," a work considered sometimes its magnum opus — the alchemical mass of 


Tilton, The Quest for the Phoenix, 253. 

'■* Gyorgy E. Szonyi, John Dee's Occultism: Magical Exaltation through Powerful Signs (Ne"w 

York: State University of New York Press, 2004), xiii. 

^^ Christopher Mcintosh, Phe Kosicrucians: The History, Mythology, and Rituals of an Esoteric 

• (York Beach: Weiser Books, 1988), 32. 
'^'^ See Farkas Gabor PGss, Benedek Lang, Cosmin Popa-Gorjanu, "The Alchemical Mass 
of Nicolaus Melchior Cibinensis: Text, Identity and Speculations," ^«?fex 53 (2006): 143— 

^^ His identity is still a controversial topic. See the chapter Phe Identity of Nicolaus Melchior 
in Benedek Lang, Unlocked Books: Manuscripts of Pearned Magic in the Medieval Ubraries of 
CentralEurope (Pennsylvania: Penn State Press, 2008), 158—161; Szulakowska, Phe Sacrificial 
Body, 40; Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, 396. 
^^ Tilton, Phe Quest for the Phoenix, 139. 


Alkimia Operativa and Alkimia Speculativa 

Melchior. But Maier added to Melchior's mass an illustration made by Matthieu 
Merian depicting an alchemical mass, copied from the Roman Catholic one with 
elements of the Book of Revelation. It is assumed that even if Melchior did 
not want to identify the lapis philosophorum with Christ in his alchemical mass, 
Maier clearly did. In this framework, the highly marked religious character of 
Melchior's and Maier's alchemy is clear. And these are not unique examples: 
"Fludd, Boehme and Franckenberg regarded the Eucharist as a metaphysical type 
of chemical process" as well. 

In a better-known work published m the same period, Atalanta Fuffens 
(1617), Maier completed his spiritual understanding of alchemy with "more overt 
references to the alchemical sacrament," connecting this with "both the sacrament 
of Baptism and also that of the Eucharist." This book deserves special attention 
in order to dispell doubts concerning the spiritual character of alchemy. It is the 
first alchemical Gesamtkunstwerk that comprises music, images, poetry, and prose 
together in one piece. As is stressed on the frontispiece of the book, all the senses 
are involved m contact with this tt&Atise: parti m oculis et inteflectui. . . partim aurihus et 
recreationi. . . videnda, legenda, meditanda, intelligenda, dijudicanda, canenda et audienda. In 
this respect, Atalanta is a book that requires a rather contemplative exercise and 
which seems to lack a direct connection with laboratory work, "providing a series 
of meditations on the spiritual significance of alchemy." The use of myths in 
Atalanta and in Maier's other works, like Arcana Arcanissima (1614), as analogies 
for alchemical realities — one of Maier's attempts was to reconstruct the entire 
mythical space through alchemical principles — developed a kind of alchemy that 
chose a mythological reading of alchemy and an alchemical reading of mythology. 

^' For a comprehensive commentary on this pecuHar illustration and its contextualization 

see Szulakowska, The Sacrificial Body, 41—44. 

**« Ibidem, 43. 

**! Ibidem, 54. 

^'^ Ibidem. 

*^ Urszula Szulako"wska, The Alchemy of Tight. Geometry and Optics in Tate Hsnaissance 

Alchemical Illustration, 156. 

^"^This is his first published book that can be considered an immersion in Classical 

mythology in order to make sense of it "with the help of alchemy. Here one can see 

Maier's incipient interest in mythology and hermetism, the book being "a combination 

of scientific and hermetic research "with a particular sensitivity to literature, humanistic 

rhetoric, and classical mythology, often treated satirically," see Gyorgy E. Szonyi, "Occult 

Semiotics and Iconology: Michael Maier's Alchemical Emblems" in Mundus Emblematicus: 

The Neo-Tatin Emblem Books, ed. Karl Enenkel and Amoud Visser (Tumhout: Brepols, 

2003), 304. 


George-Florin Calian 

This is referred to in scholarly literature as Mjthoalchemie. One can see that Jvlaier's 
aim was not only to underline the alchemical character of religion, but also that of 
mythology. Later, Jacob ToUius (1626—1696), philologist and alchemist, in a book 
published m the same year as Newton's Prindpia (1687), asserts a similar thought 
that the true meanmg of myths is related to alchemy. 

But, the most striking thing is not the ultra-spiritualization of alchemy 
through the sacraments or the alchemical hermeneutics of myth, but the 
introduction of musical scores m Atalanta as part of alchemical science. There 
is no testimony from the author himself concerning the choice of the musical 
scores, one can only make hypotheses. One can say that the musical scores must 
serve a religious and magical purpose since music, especially fugues, because 
of the rules of counterpoint," rely in the highest way on carefully thought-out 
mathematical and metaphysical principles. 

*^ See Friedmann Harzer, "Arcana Arcanissim a: Emblematik und Mytlioalcliemie bei 
Michael Maier" in Polyvalent und Multifunktionalitat der PLmhlematikj M-ultivalence and 
Multifunctionality of the Emblem, ed. Wolfgang Harms and Dietmar Peil (Frankfurt am 
Main: Peter Lang, 2002), 319-332. 

^ Jacob ToUius, Fortuita: In quihus, prceter critica nonnulla, totafahularis historia Grceca, Phoenicia, 
JEgyptiaca, ad chemiam pertinere asseritur (Amsterdam: Jansson-Waesberg, 1687). The book 
has no reference to Maier's Atalanta or Arcana arcanissima. 

'^ There are important studies on the musical scores from Atalanta fug.ens, for example: 
Christoph Meinel, "Alcliemie und Musik," in Die Alchemie in der europdischen Kultur und 
Wissenschaftsgeschichte, ed. Christoph Meinel (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrasso"witz, 1986), 
201—227. Franz Liessem, Musik und Alchemie (Tiitzing: H. Schneider, 1969). Another 
study concerns the relation between the musical fugues and alchemy of David Yearsley, 
"Alchemy and Counterpoint in an Age of Reason," Journal of the American Musicological 
Society 51 (1998): 201—243, unfortunately Maier's book is not so discussed. I think that the 
question of Maier's musical education is still unresolved. The problem is more delicate 
taking into account that his fugues "were compared with the high level of Bach's fugues. 
*^ The hypotheses are that the music was performed at the court of Rudolf II; as an accessory 
for laboratory practice; as part of a theatrical play, and so forth. The following presumption 
is notable for laboratory practice: "Maier intended these alchemical 'incantations' to be 
sung by an alchemic choir at critical moments during the concoction of Philosopher's 
Stone, under tiie simultaneous influences of prayer and the heavenly bodies," Read, From 
Alchemj, 73. One could say that its function is similar to that of talismans. 
'^ "One of the most challenging exercises in counterpoint," see: Joscelyn Godwin, "The 
Deepest of the Rosicrucians. Michael Maier (1569—1622)" in The Bj)sicrucian Enlightenment 
Revisited, ed. Ralph Wliite (Hudson: Lindisfame Books, 1999), 120. 

'" An important study on the magic of music is Gary TomHnson, Music in Renaissance 
Magic: Toward a Historiography of Others (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994). 
Unfortunately, TomHnson did not take into account the musical scores of Atalanta. 


Alkimia Operativa and Alkimia Speculativa 

Each musical score has three melodic lines, where Maier notes at the 

— Atalanta seu voxfugiens (first voice) 

— Hippomenes sen vox sequens (second voice) 

— Pomum obiectum sen vox morans (third voice) 

Every voice symbolically corresponds to the volatility, flightiness, and 
fUgitiveness of Mercury (Atalanta), Sulphur's virtue (Hippomenes), and Salt (the 
golden and delaying apples of the Hesperides). Also, these melodic lines match 
the triad: spirit — soul — body. Atalanta can stand for Nature and for Alchemy 
herself, while Hippomenes is the alchemist desiring to understand Nature or the 
science of alchemy. Through the golden apples of the Hesperides, the alchemical 
Salt, Maier illustrated the way to catch Mercury (Atalanta), which is m eternal 
polarity with Sulphur (Hippomenes). 

The parallelism of the alchemical triad with the myth of Atalanta seems to 
be interpreted in diverse ways by different scholars. For example, Lyndy Abraham 
says that Sulphur is symbolized by the golden apples. If one assumes this, then 
the music also should be thought of in another way: cantus firmus would not be 
only pomum morans. I would argue that Maier's alchemical conception is illustrated 
in the structure of the music. The relation of Mercury and Sulphur (as a unity 
of opposites) with the third element, which is Salt, apparently expresses his 
Paracelsian understanding and the way m which an alchemist should research the 
spiritual and natural levels, and, even more, how to achieve the Great Work. 

If, for Alaier, the ultra-spiritual character of alchemy is more than evident, 
in Bohme's work one can say that it is almost the other way around, at first sight 

'^ CaroHen Eijkelboom, "Alchemical Music by Michael Maier," in Alchemy Revisited, ed. Z. 

R. W M. von Martels (Leiden: Brill Archive, 1990), 98. 

'^ Lyndy Abraham, A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery (Cambridge: Cambridge University 

Press, 2001), 13. 

'•^ Paracelsus attached a ne"w conception about matter to the Aristotelian four elements — 

tria principia or tria prima — adding two medieval principles of matter (sulfur and mercury) 

and a third element, "which is salt, "with an enormous influence on alchemy. 

'** One of the modem editors of Atalanta, Joscelyn God"win, converted the fifty canons 

into modem score notations, see Joscelyn Godwin, Michael Maier's AtalantaFugiens (1 617). 

An Edition of the Fugues, Emblems and Epigrams (Magnum Opus Hermetic Source"works, 

22) (Grand Rapids MI: Phanes Press, 1989). The edition, no"w a rarity, "was published in 

250 copies with a seventy-minute recording of the complete canons. A reviewer of the 

edition compared the recording "with Machaut, Gesualdo, and Stravinsky; Douglas Leedy, 

"Atalanta Fugiens: An Edition of the Fugues, Emblems and Epigrams by Michael Maier; 

Joscelyn Godwin," Notes 41 , No. 3 (1991): 737. 


George-Florin Calian 

It seems that he used alchemical language for a purpose that is beyond alchemy — 
the spirituality of the world. In other words, if for Maier alchemy was the ultimate 
science, for Bohme it was mediation to mysticism. In several works he used 
alchemical principles and symbols without hesitation to demonstrate theological 
realities. Borrowing alchemical terminology m order to explain religious and 
mystical frameworks, Bohme assumed that alchemical language is not only a 
metaphor for laboratory research. Alchemy is a metaphysical science because he 
understood that matter is contaminated with spirit. 

The deeply mystical and alchemical character of Bohme's work is not so 
obvious for Principe and Newman, who claim that: 

Even if Bohme's work were taken as evidence of the 'spiritual alchemy' 
promoted by esoterics and occultists, it would remain to be proven by 
historical argument that he falls into the mainstream of early modern 
alchemical thought, and that extrapolations about alchemy in general 
could be reliably or usefully made from him. 

For a historian it is perhaps the hardest and most challenging task to prove 
the non-alchemical-spiritual character of Bohme's work. It is questionable whether 
it IS representative of early modern alchemical thought, especially because of its 
esoteric and mystical extravagance concerning the conception of nature at a time 
when "positivist" alchemical thinking was becoming increasingly popular. One 
can say that a mystic like Bohme fits, and at the same time does not fit, in the "the 
mainstream of early modern alchemical thought," and surely his work does not 
fit, as I will argue below, in the scope of the tendencies of chemical thought as 
conceptualized by Principe and Newman. 

It is generally accepted by scholars that the Paracelsian conception of 
"the healing purposes of alchemy" had "considerable significance" m Bohme's 
corpus. In The Three Principles of the Diane Essence (1612), one of his first works, 
Bohme claims in a subchapter called "The Gate of the Highest Depth of the 
Life of the Tincture" "that neither the doctor, nor the alchemist, hath the ground 

Ne"wman and Principe, "Some Problems "with the Historiography of Alchemy," 399. 
*^ One can see that the Early Modern period has two strong opposite tendencies, more 
or less "weU expressed: an esoteric and mystical one, and an experimental and positivist 
one that sometimes agree with each other (e.g., Bohme versus Boyle), or overlap (e.g., 
Athanasius PGrcher or Ne"wton). But even so, the gap between chemical thought and 
alchemy is too profound to research them with the same methodology. 
'^ Andre"w Weeks, Boehme: An Intellectual Biography of the Seventeenth-Century Philosopher and 
Mystic (Albany: SUNY press, 1991), 50. 


Alkimia Operativa and Alkimia Speculativa 

of the tincture, unless he is born again in the spirit." Here it is clearly assumed 
that the research conducted by the alchemist only in the laboratory, like a mere 
metallurgist, without any spiritual aim, remains profane and meaningless. And this 
IS not a unique case m Bohme's corpus. Another example of his confidence in 
alchemy can be found m De Signatura Kerum (1621), which abounds m examples 
of alchemical imagery, speaking about all things (the sun, the elements or all 
creatures) as a revelation of eternity. 

In a later work, Mjsterium Magnum (1623), an interpretation of the Book of 

Genesis, Boehme discusses the relation of alchemy to mystical experience. One 

can see "Boehme's alchemical understanding of salvation" where he translates 

his anthropological theology into alchemical language. For example, for Bohme, 

the true Adamic man whom God made out of the Earth-matrix in 

whom stands the covenant and gift is similar to a tincture m coarse lead; 

the tincture consumes in itself, through its own desire, the coarseness 

of the lead as the coarse Saturn, kills the saturnine will, leads his own 

will, understood as the tincture -will and selfhood up into lead and 

through the lead is transformed into gold. 

For Arlene A. Miller, the interpretation of this fragment in a spiritual 
framework does not raise significant problems: "What this passage means is simply 
that lead or Saturn, here used synonymously. . . through a tincturing process, here 
associated with the love and grace of God, become gold, the reborn sinner." 
Miller added that here Bohme should not be interpreted merely through the 
Eckhartian unio mystica, but rather close to alchemical realities: "it is akin only to 
the alchemical conception of a gross metal losing its gross accidental properties 
to a new spiritual core of gold within the gross metal, a new metal which emerges 
through fire and the tincturing process." " Bohme is unable to see only vulgar and 
material realities in alchemical processes. Everything is linked until the moment 
when doing alchemy is the same thing as doing theology: 

'' Jakob Bohme, Concerning the Three Principles of the Divine Essence (London: John M. 

Watkins, 1910), 207. 

'' Arlene A. Miller, "The Theologies of Luther and Boehme in the Light of Their Genesis 

Commentaries," The Harvard Theological Keview G?> (1970): 278. 

■""' Mjsterium Magnum; oder Erklarung iiher das erste Buch Mosis in Theosophia Kevelata... 

(Hamburg, 1715), chapter 51, in Miller, "The Theologies of Luther and Boehme," 278. 

101 Ibidem. 

1'^^ I suppose that here Miller emphasizes the priority of the transmutation more than the 

transcendence of the matter in Boehme's alchemical tiiouglit. 

10' Ibidem. 


George-Florin Calian 

the sun gives its tincture to the metallic essence and the metallic essence 
gives its desire to the sun's tincture so that out of these two a beautifial 
gold is born... the same spiritual essence is the inner, new man, as 
a new house or residence of the soul in which it [the soul] lives in 
accordance with the heavenly world. 

Understanding alchemy as a mirror for mysticism can be found from the 
beginning, m his first book, Aurora (1612). At this time, discussing the notion of 
Salitter, it is assumed, as in De signatura rerum, that there are two complementary 
layers: a transcendent and a corrupt Salitter. These two forms were "idealized by 
Bohme to represent the duality of the pure and the spoiled divine substance." 
As a corollary, the "entire work" consists of these two realities, holy and earthly, 
each of them a representation of eternity. This is why, for Bohme, alchemy is a 
sign, a divme mark, of the sacred reality, and can be understood as a metaphysical 

The most representative example of the presence of a spiritual understanding 
of alchemy is exactly where one would expect, least. Isaac Newton's (1643—1727) 
manuscripts provide evidence that he gave considerable thought to alchemy as 
emblematic of a purely scientific explanation of nature and was m fact deeply 
involved m conceiving alchemy as spiritual. Next to Eirenaeus Philalethes 
(George Starkey, d. 1665), Michael Sendivogius (1556—1636), and Jan de Monte 
Snyder, Michael Maier was one of Newton's preferred alchemists, authores optimi. 
Newton believed that alchemical writings "if properly interpreted, would reveal 
the wisdom handed down by God in the distant past." Like Maier himself, he 
considered that there "was a close connection between spiritual and experimental 
domains." ' Newton "seems to have been particularly interested," " in Maier; the 
"interest m Maier's writings also supports the view... that his alchemy cannot 
be seen solely in connection with his chemical experiments but was also a link 
between his religious beliefs and his scientific aims." " One of Newton's earliest 

'"'* Mjsterium Magnum, chapter 52 in Miller, "The Theologies of Luther and Boehme," 295. 

^"^ See Weeks, Boehme: An Intellectual Biography, 67. 

'"^ I. Bernard Cohen and George E. Smith, "Introduction," in The Cambridge Companion to 

Newton, ed. I. Bernard Cohen and George Edwin Smith (Cambridge: Cambridge University 

Press, 2004), 24. 

10^ Ibidem. 

"8 Ibidem. 

^"^ Frances Amelia Yates, The Rosiirudan Enlightenment (London: Routiedge, 2002), 256. 

^^'^ Cf. Karin Figala, "Newton's Alchemy," in The Cambridge Companion to Newton, ed. I. 

Bernard Cohen and George Edwin Smith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 

2004), 375. 


Alkimia Operativa and Alkimia Speculativa 

manuscripts, from about 1669, mcludes extracts from an important book by Maier, 
Symhola Aureae Mensae (Keynes MS 29). As Yates noted, "Newton had entered 
that world of Alaier's alchemical revival, had studied the alchemical sources which 
it brought together, and had pored over the strange expression of its outlook in 
the alchemical emblems." 

Like Maier, who saw an alchemical discourse in mythology, Bohme 
considered that all sciences (i.e., the traditional and esoteric disciplines, such as 
cabala) speak about the same mystical reality Considering the fact that Bohme's 
insight into alchemical terminology seems to be that of someone who knows 
this discipline well, it is hard to presuppose that his speculation concerning the 
mystical character of alchemy is unfounded. Even Principe, discussing the notion 
of Salitterm Bohme's work, agrees that Bohme "demonstrates knowledge of both 
theoretical and practical alchemy," and his "notion of the Salitterhndg&s the gulf 
between Hermetic naturalism and mechanistic science." As a result, I agree 
with Andrew Weeks, who considered that "Bohme's own approach to alchemy 
stressed its spiritual allegory." 

Of course, there are differences m the perception of the spirituality of 
alchemy. If for Maier alchemy is the ultimate speculative and spiritual discipline, 
for Bohme it is a tool to create analogies with his mystic theology, while Newton 
saw in alchemy the possibility of understanding the divine plan. Maybe there was 
no unitary understanding of alchemy as spiritual, but it is sure that, in the light of 
this spiritual feature, a pure empirical approach was insufficient. As I have argued 
until now, one should seriously take into consideration Paracelsus' assertion that 

^^' Ibidem, 374—375. The manuscript Keynes Ms. 32 also contains the abstracts of 
five "works by Maier (from the early 1690s), one of "which is Atalanta fuffens, see Newton 

Manuscript Catalogue. For more information see John Harrison, The Ubrary of Isaac 
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 188—189 and Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs, The 
Janus Faces of Ge»z«j" (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 122—123. 
^^^ Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, 257. 

'^' La"wrence M. Principe and Andre"w Weeks, "Jacob Boehme's Divine Substance Salitter: 
Its Nature, Origin, and Relationship to Seventeenth Century Scientific Theories," The 
British Journal for the History of Science 22 (1989): 61. I cannot comment on "whether one 
can see here a contradiction between assuming Bohme's "knowledge of both theoretical 
and practical alchemy" and the later consideration that "it would remain to be proven by 
historical argument that he [Bohme] falls into the mainstream of early modern alchemical 
thought." See Ne"wman and Principe, "Some Problems "with the Historiography of 
Alchemy," 399. 
■'■''' '^'ee^i,Boehme: An Intellectual Biography, 193. 


George-Florin Calian 

"the discipline's worth is to be evaluated m terms which have nothing to do with 
the ennobling of metals." 

Concluding Remarks 

It IS not the purpose of this study to defend or to support Jung's and Eliade's 
research, but I certainly would like to emphasize the arbitrary character of 
labeling alchemy as primarily a scientific and positivistic inquiry. The argument of 
Principe and Newman that alchemy is not as spiritual as one would suppose is not 
consistent and it is also based on controversial biographical features of Jung and 
Eliade. As I have argued, however, Principe's and Newman' sources do not have 
academic relevance for either the life or scientific research of Jung and Eliade. 

My suggestion is not that the Jung— Eliade thesis could perfectly account 
for the topic in the history of science or of Western esotericism, but I claim that 
the Principe— Newman thesis is sterile and does not satisfactorily demonstrate 
exactly how the so-called spiritual approach of alchemy failed.' The proto- 
chemical thesis is not necessarily inappropriate, but this position (which I would 
call "positivistic ideological") reduces something that in almost all cases is too 
complex to be limited solely to the activity of laboratory research. The Principe- 
Newman thesis implies reductionism, while Jung or Eliade never dismissed the 
scientific character of alchemy. This is the reason why, for the historians of ideas. 

Massimo L. Bianchi, "The Visible and the Invisible. From Alchemy to Paracelsus," in 
Alchemy and Chemistry in the 16th and 1 7th Centuries, ed. Piyo Rattansi and Antonio Clericuzio 
(Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1994), 17. 

^^'' Ne"wman tried to show that the title of Decknamen includes reference to a chemical 
process, thus elucidating the obscure language of Eirenaeus Pliilaletlies. Therefore, the 
alchemical symbols are simple signs as they are used in today's chemistry, I) ecknamenh€\a^ 
"cover names" for "mineral substances" used by alchemists, see William R. Newman, 
"'Decknamen or Pseudochemical Language?' Eirenaeus PhUalethes and Carl Jung," Kevue 
d'histoire des sciences 49 (1996): 159—188. For a critique see Tilton, The Quest for the Phoenix, 

'^^ Thomas Kuhn, in his famous Structure of Scientific Evolutions (1970), introduced the 
term incommensurability to stress the fissure between scientific theories, that a previous 
scientific theory cannot be translated into a new theory. Even if one accepts that alchemy 
"was closer to chemistry than to spiritual and esoteric behaviour, there "were stiU "paradigm 
shifts" that make it difficult to understand — tiiere are two basically different systems 
of explanation and understanding of matter. According to Kuhn, the past "work is 
"incommensurable" "with our current science. Therefore, if one accepts their thesis of a 
continuum of a linear progress, the Kuhnian challenge of gaps between scientific tiieories 

Alkimia Operativa and Alkimia Speculativa 

religion, or esotericism, to name only a few branches, the Principe— Newman 
attempt should be doubted. A definite answer concerning the nature of alchemy 
is intricate. In some cases, indeed, it is rather chemical research than alchemical, 
but questioning the religious character of alchemy, for example m the case of 
Maier or Bohme, is unfortunately an error. 

I consider that the nature of early modern alchemy is one of the most 
challenging issues for the history of ideas and the history of Western civilization. 
Alchemy is only chronologically close to the rise of scientific research, but 
"ontologically" it is almost at the opposite pole. The hypothesis of the existence 
of metaphorical language used in order to express chemical processes does 
not seem too problematic to me. Indeed, in several alchemical works one can 
presuppose that the crypto-alchemical discourse in fact covers a pseudo-chemical 
one; and that the obscurity of symbols can be revealed like Decknamen, as Newman 
pointed out. To generalize to the whole alchemical movement, however, is too 
hazardous. The popularization of the idea that alchemy was only spiritual is 
even more harmful, as can easily be seen m pseudo-scientific research. Both 
tendencies can be regarded as part of what David Fischer called the historian's 

To summarize, the line of my argument to reject the Principe— Newman 
thesis was based on the following ideas and the aim of reconsidering the exclusivist 
approach of the historians of science dealing with alchemy: 1. The distinction 
between alchemy and chemistry can trace its roots from the Middle Ages. 2. 
The distinction is accentuated until the moment when such speculative literature 
appeared, so that it is almost impossible to find any kind of material or laboratory 
issues. 3. The attempt to demolish the difference by arguing that scholars such as 
Jung and Eliade were influenced by the nineteenth-century fashion for occultism 
and that the root of the distinction cannot be found earlier, being an "ahistorical" 

^^' Another issue that is almost totally ignored by Principe and Ne"wman is that "with 
Ne"wton one can see a transition to"wards inductive scientific thinking, a characteristic 
of modern physical and chemical sciences. On tiie otiier hand, alchemical thinking 
is tributary in almost all the cases, to deductive thinking, specific to medieval scientific 
research. Therefore, making alchemists into a kind of "modem" researchers in primitive 
laboratories, is like saying that they used an inductive "way of thinking avant-la-lettre. 
^^' It is almost impossible to nominate a representative voice for this pseudo-science that 
promotes erroneously the ideas of Jung or Eliade in order to have a kind of auctoritas voice 
for its purpose. The production of this kind of literature is huge, and it is another topic 
and part of another phenomenon. 

^^^ See Da"vid Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies: Toivard a Lj)gic of HistoricalThought Q^e^x 
York: Harper Torchbooks, 1970). 


George-Florin Calian 

approach, is entirely incorrect. 4. The annihilation of the difference would leave 
important disciplines without subjects or restrict their subjects. One such example 
is the history of Western esotericism, a controversial academic discipline, but still 
a young and imperative one for understanding the history of Western civilization. 
5. Finally, the spiritual— non-spiritual dichotomy is the result of the exclusivist and 
partisan character of some researchers who accentuate only the chemical facet, 
while humanist researchers do not exclude the chemical nature of alchemy. 



Editors' preface 5 


Goran Vidovic 

Dish to Cash, Cash to Ash: Mandrogerus the Applied Parasite and 

the Evolution of Comedy 9 

Jelena Jaric 

The Byzantine Army in the Central Balkans between the 

Fifth and Seventh Centuries: A Survey of Military Insignia 30 

Nikoloz Aleksidze 

The Role of Emperor Herakleios in Medieval Georgian Historiography 46 

Ivana Dobcheva 

Patterns of Interdependence: 

Author and Audience in the History of Eeo the Deacon 62 

Anna Adashinskaya 

The Origins of the Joint Cult of St Simeon and St Sava of 

Serbia Based on Visual Sources 77 

Dragos Gh. Nastasoiu 

Political Aspects of the Mural Representations of 

sancti reges Hungariae in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries 93 

Unige Bencze 

Fate Medieval Ceramic Tableware from the 

Franciscan Friary of T argu Mure§ 120 

Gabor Alihaly Toth 

Using Culture: Giovanni Kucellai's Knowledge-Constructing Practice 

in the MS Zihaldone Quaresimale 142 

Antoaneta Sabau 

Rewriting Through Translation: Some Textual Issues 

in the Vulgata of the Ejercicios espirituales by Ignatius of Foyola 155 

George-Florin Calian 

Alkimia Operativa and Alkimia Speculativa 

Some Modern Controversies on the Historiography of Alchemy 166 

Conflict and Coexistence: New Views on the Crusades 191 

Michel Balard 

Jihad, Holy War, and Crusading 193 

Attila Barany 

The l^ast rex crucesignatus, Edward I, and the Mongol Alliance 202 

Irina Savinetskaya 

Crusaders' Motivations and Chivalric Consciousness: 

French Contributions to the iMter Crusades 224 


Gyorgy Gereby 

Report of the Year 239 

MA Thesis Abstracts 244 

PhD Defences during the Academic Year 2008—2009 258 

A Tribute to Professor Ihor Sevcenko by CEU Aledievalists 280